APOCALYPTIC THINKING is an aspect of what has been termed “the tragic worldview”: a cognitive framework that stands for the human’s ability to reflect on life’s finitude, coupled with the human’s inability to come to terms with this finitude. This tension between cognitive states evokes a sense of tragedy in the human, with apocalypse becoming a symptom of thinking in tragic terms. Citing historian of religion Mircea Eliade, Polish philosopher Wojciech Załuski claims that the tragic worldview, which is still with us, superseded the prehistorical mental schema linked with the early cosmic religions. In that originary schema, the human experienced him- or herself as an undifferentiated part of nature and sensed death as just a temporary and insignificant disturbance within the ongoing permanence of life. Then, through the historical process of individuation, the human gradually became separated from the natural world while also learning to grasp the discontinuity of life—both human and nonhuman. For Załuski, a conservative Catholic thinker, the tragic worldview thus presents itself as a logical consequence of the human’s separation from nature. The tragedy arises out of the impossibility of reconciling the appreciation of life in an amoral sense—that is, the ability to experience wonder and admire beauty as such—with the inability to hold on to those sensations and the objects from which they arise. The sense of the world’s evanescence is thus a cornerstone of the tragic worldview.
The tragic worldview arguably manifests itself in the fatalism of Homer and other ancient Greek thinkers, but it also returns, in modern guise, in the Dionysianism of Friedrich Nietzsche and the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Significantly, the pretragic worldview associated with early naturalistic religions and with alternative cosmologies that Western thought subsequently deemed “primitive” has never been entirely superseded: it has become manifest in philosophies as diverse as Epicurean hedonism, Stoicism, and Buddhism. Yet Załuski, in his attachment to his own religious framework, sees the transition from the cosmic to the tragic worldview as a sign of the maturation of the human mind and thus as a teleological process of growth and progression beyond the state of nature. The philosophy of immanence developed by Gilles Deleuze, for example, would therefore be seen as immature from a particularist Christian viewpoint. Indeed, for Załuski, the process of human maturation as a species entails the gradual discovery of an authentic human condition: the condition of the fall from grace, or separation from God as the fullness of being. The human’s very existence in and care about the world can only be apprehended in the course of history. The inherent tragedy of human existence resulting from its finitude is ultimately redeemed in Christianity by the promise of eternal life.
It is worth analyzing these conservative finalist discourses, especially in their Biblical articulations, because many of their tropes and figures return in the dominant narratives on the Anthropocene—the latter’s apparent secularism premised on scientific rationality notwithstanding. And thus, when the sixth seal of the divine scroll is broken in the Book of Revelation, it unveils the wrath of God by proclaiming the total destruction of the stable planetary configuration, with all humans, irrespective of their wealth and status, rushing to hide from the catastrophe amid the ensuing rubble:
There was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;
And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth. . . .
And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.
And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains.
The sense of total annihilation is nevertheless overcome in the Book of Revelation by the promise of the New Heaven and Earth, or the New Jerusalem, with the river of life revitalizing the people and the tree of life offering them unlimited abundance.
This kind of Biblical apocalyptic imaginary has provided modern humans with a framing device for understanding many of the current issues surrounding the Anthropocene: we can think here of images of the blackening of the sun as a result of fossil fuel use, pictures of land erosion and collapse (of “heaven falling unto the earth”) due to mining, or reports of lands such as the Solomon Islands and the Maldives being “moved out of their places” due to rising ocean levels. Yet, more worryingly, it is not just for diagnostic purposes that redemptive apocalyptic tropes are being mobilized today; they are also resorted to when solutions are offered. Indeed, there is a very clear sense in many of the science papers on the Anthropocene and their popularized media versions that the salvation from the Anthropocene’s alleged finalism will come from a secularized yet godlike elsewhere: an escape to heavens (i.e., a planetary relocation) or an actual upgrade of humans to the status of Homo deus. In both of these narratives Man arrives in the post-Anthropocene New Jerusalem fully redeemed—and redesigned.
This supposedly individuated Man remains undifferentiated, both sexually and biologically. Indeed, the Man of the tragic worldview achieves his status at the cost of sacrificing sexual and biological difference that is always more than one. Disavowing his kinship with women and those of nonbinary gender, with animals, microbes, and fungi, Man separates from “nature” to emerge standing, proudly erect, yet already threatened with contamination, shrinkage, and evanescence. This disavowal is a condition of the preservation of Man’s self-belief and self-appointed authority, allowing him continued “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”